PITTSFIELD >> A Pittsfield boy recently bitten by a possibly rabid fox isn't raising any red flags with state wildlife officials and local health experts.
In the first half of 2016, only five wild animals of 34 from Berkshire County submitted to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health tested positive for rabies, according to the DPH website. Across the commonwealth from January through June, the total is 55 out of nearly 1,110 on pace for the yearly average of 104/934 for the past eight years. The DPH figures don't include bats.
MassWildlife spokeswoman Marion Lawson says rabies has been at low levels in recent years since the outbreak of the raccoon strain in the mid-1990s in Massachusetts. This strain of rabies can also be carried by foxes, skunks, cats, dogs and domestic livestock.
According to reports, the fox attack was during the daytime and unprovoked.
"A wild animal biting someone is rare; either it was sick with rabies or distemper or the other response is to avoid humans as they don't want to be around people," Lawson said.
Once bitten, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. If possible, capture, kill or confine the animal without damaging its head, as rabies is primarily spread through the critter's saliva.
Testing the animal takes time or is often unavailable to confirm rabies, so take the cautious approach especially if the animal was acting abnormally, according to Dr. Paul Aucoin, chairwoman of the Infectious Disease Division at Berkshire Medical Center.
"If any question, go ahead and give the vaccine and then stop it if tests determine the animal wasn't rabid," she said. "The vaccine is much easier to take and not has painful as before."
The shots are intermuscular and are given in four doses, the second, third and fourth injections administered three, seven and 14 days respectively after the first dose, Aucoin noted.
The Pittsfield physician says she can't remember seeing a local case of a human contracting rabies in the past 30 years.
Sightings of foxes, raccoons along with rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and other non-rabies-carrying wildlife are on the rise thanks to a plentiful food supply in the woods and an un-Berkshire-like winter in 2016, according to MassWildlife.
"Last fall saw an abundance of nuts and berries which is very important for wildlife to get through the winter," Lawson said. "Having a mild winter was helpful, too, meaning more."
The food supply and weather conditions meant the adult critters produced more offspring earlier this year and they are more active now through the fall season.
"We're at the height of summer when the young wildlife is out and about, hunting and foraging," she said.
To keep the wildlife at bay, Berkshire residents should secure the trash, taking away a potential food source and don't be intimidated by the animals. The more you scare them off your property, the less likely they will return, Lawson said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233